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Good Listener and Communication Skills

Updated on April 28, 2010

Improving your listening skills can improve your overall communication skills. Practice active listening and see how much more you can gain from meetings.

Are you a good listener?

If you spend a lot of time in meetings, on the phone, or talking to other people, paying attention to what other people are saying is essential. But do you really listen? Or are you just hearing what they are saying and not really thinking about what you have heard?

Listening is a skill, and to be good at it you need to practice. Learning how to be an active listener can help you retain information and can improve your communication with others. Improving your listening skills can also help avoid misunderstandings, which can be a source of stress.

Active listening

There are three steps for active listening:

  1. Hearing - Listening carefully enough to hear what the speaker is saying and be able to repeat it.
  2. Understanding - What you think the person speaking might mean.
  3. Judging - Does what the other person said make sense?

You can improve your active listening by paraphrasing and clarifying what the other person has said, and also by providing feedback. Using words such as "Do you mean..." and "Can you explain a bit more about..." can help both you and the speaker be clear about what has been said and agreed upon.

This may seem obvious, and it is, but many people have blockers that keep them from being good listeners.

Look at the traits below. Do you have any of these traits? If so, you may not be as effective a listener as you think you are!

Mind reading. You read the speaker's mind instead of hearing what they are saying. For example, "He said he liked it, but I can tell he didn't."
Selective hearing. You pay attention only to things that concern you, or that you want to hear.
Daydreaming. You're unable to listen because your mind wanders.
Self-comparison. Thinking about how you compare to the speaker (for example, "I am smarter than this person") rather than listening to what they are saying.
Jumping to conclusions. You have ready-made ideas about an issue before the speaker has finished talking, which may cause you to draw incorrect conclusions.
Have to be right. You'll go to any lengths to prove you are right, or look for ways you can twist the facts to your point of view.
Opinion giver. You give opinions, particularly negative ones, before the speaker is finished and tend to "put down" the speaker.
Pre-empter. You assume you know what the speaker is going to say before you let him or her finish talking.
Topic shifter. You have a habit of changing the subject before the speaker is finished.
Planning ahead. You think of questions and solutions while the speaker is still talking. Thinking is good, but you may not have finished listening.
Pleasing. You agree with everything before understanding the whole situation completely.

Top tips for being a good listener

Give your full attention to the speaker. Don't think about what someone else is wearing or look out the window! And, focus on content not delivery.
Let the speaker finish before you begin to talk. Don't pre-empt what they are going to say.
Finish listening before you start talking. You can't listen if you are thinking about what you are going to say next.
Avoid emotional involvement. Listen to what the speaker is saying, not what you want them to say.
Ask questions. If you don't understand, make sure you get the information clarified.
Give visual feedback. Engage with the speaker and nod to show you have understood; smile, laugh or frown to show your feelings.

Improving your listening skills can improve your overall communication skills. Practice active listening and see how much more you can gain from meetings and how much better you are able to understand other people's agendas.


  1. Cooper CL and Palmer S. Conquer your stress. Management Shapers published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. 2001


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